Loofahs Aren't Just for Scrubbing Backs

One of the odder shaped Asian vegetables for unaccustomed Western eyes such as our own has always been the luffa, also known as luffa squash, ridged luffa, ridge gourd and Chinese okra. Spongy to the touch and lined with vertical ridges, luffa is much less intimidating to prep and cook than might be expected. The subtle flavor is somewhere between an English hothouse cucumber and zucchini but the pleasantly bouncy texture is the real draw for us. Also, the veggie's versatility. Anyone accusing luffa of blandness must try Serious Eat's recipe for Steamed Luffa with Garlic and Chili Pepper which employs a cooking method perfect for preserving luffa's charming tender/spongy mouth feel.

India has long treated luffa with respect where it's generally served as a "dry curry", a vegetable side dish without sauce. Here's how we did it: begin by trimming ends of one luffa (about 1 foot long) and removing the spiny ridges with a vegetable peeler. Leave the skin on between the ridges as it cooks to a silky smoothness. Slice the luffa into coin shapes, 1/2" thick. Heat 2 T. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and when the oil is hot add 1 t. cumin seeds. Allow to sizzle for a few seconds then add 1 thinly sliced onion. Lower heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, browning only lightly. Add a large dash of turmeric powder, 1 chopped tomato, 1 clove of minced garlic and a sprinkle of powdered ginger. Cook for 2-3 minutes then add in the sliced luffa and at least 1/2 t. salt. Stir well and reduce heat to low; cover skillet and cook gently for 15 minutes or until the luffa is soft but not mushy. Stir now and then to prevent burning and add only a few drops of water as/if needed. In the last 5 minutes of cooking sprinkle with cayenne and black pepper and stir again. Serve warm with wedges of lemon if desired and adjust saltiness to personal tastes. An overall useful side dish, served with rice and a bean or lentil dish this would make a light vegetarian entree.


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